Go to contents

[Op-Ed] ‘Star Wars’ in Asia?

Posted January. 14, 2010 08:47,   


The U.S. and the former Soviet Union tried to develop anti-ballistic missiles to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles flying more than 10 times the speed of sound and carrying nuclear warheads. When fired into space, ABMs fly near ICBMs and then explode, with the ensuing nuclear explosion destroying the ICBMs. Because of the fear that “Star Wars” would jeopardize the human race if allowed to pollute space, the two superpowers signed the treaty SALT 2 in 1972 and agreed to destroy all ABMs.

Since then, Washington has been developing a missile defense system that does not use nuclear warheads. ICBMs are launched from underground silos. When a U.S. spy satellite detects movement in the silos, “bunkerbuster” bombs that penetrate into the ground are used to destroy the silos.

If an ICBM is launched, a U.S. aircraft will shoot a laser at it. If that fails, Aegis destroyers will launch an SM-3 missile to intercept it. The next round of defense is to allow the ICBM to fly to the U.S. for interception by a THAAD missile. The last resort is the PAC-3 missile, which is also known as the Patriot missile.

The SM-3, THAAD and PAC-3 missiles have no nuclear warheads and explode after colliding head-on into incoming ICBMs. Hitting an ICBM about one meter in diameter and flying at high speed is extremely difficult. Washington has successfully tested the SM-3 eight times and THAAD six times.

China announced Monday that it successfully tested its missile defense system Hongqi-9 (Red Flag). Its interception missiles play the same role as the SM-3, but are launched from the ground. Beijing did not mention success in other phases of its missile interception tests, suggesting failure to set up a multi-phase missile defense system like the one in the U.S.

Japan produces the PAC-3 missile using U.S. technology and equips its Aegis destroyers with SM-3 missiles imported from the Pentagon. Taiwan, which introduced older generation Patriot missiles, plans to introduce the PAC-3 and develop its own missile system to defend its skies from lower-altitude missiles. Korea has introduced older-generation Patriot missiles and will soon complete development of the KM-SAM missile to intercept incoming missiles at low altitude. This missile defense race seems like the Asian version of “Star Wars.”

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)